In northern Aleppo, children return to school used as Islamic State prison

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Children return to school in former ISIS prison
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Children return to school in former ISIS prison
Students are seen leaving, after class, the 'Aisha Mother of the Believers�school which was recently reopened after rebels took control of al-Rai town from Islamic State militants, Syria January 16, 2017. Picture taken January 16, 2017. To match story MIDEAST-CRISIS/SYRIA-SCHOOL. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
Schoolchildren sit on mats as they attend a class in 'Aisha Mother of the Believers�school which was recently reopened after rebels took control of al-Rai town from Islamic State militants, Syria January 16, 2017. Picture taken January 16, 2017. To match story MIDEAST-CRISIS/SYRIA-SCHOOL. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
Students salvage books and items inside a classroom in 'Aisha Mother of the Believers�school which was recently reopened after rebels took control of al-Rai town from Islamic State militants, Syria January 17, 2017. Picture taken January 17, 2017. To match story MIDEAST-CRISIS/SYRIA-SCHOOL. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
A student poses as she holds a Unicef-donated school bag in 'Aisha Mother of the Believers�school which was recently reopened after rebels took control of al-Rai town from Islamic State militants, Syria January 17, 2017. Islamic State militants covered the UNICEF logo featured on the bag with the slogan "Flower of the Caliphate" when they were in control of al-Rai town. To match story MIDEAST-CRISIS/SYRIA-SCHOOL. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
A teacher writes on a broken whiteboard during a class at the 'Aisha Mother of the Believers�school which was recently reopened after rebels took control of al-Rai town from Islamic State militants, Syria January 17, 2017. Picture taken January 17, 2017. To match story MIDEAST-CRISIS/SYRIA-SCHOOL. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Students attend a class at the 'Aisha Mother of the Believers�school which was recently reopened after rebels took control of al-Rai town from Islamic State militants, Syria January 16, 2017. Picture taken January 16, 2017. To match story MIDEAST-CRISIS/SYRIA-SCHOOL. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
A student carries belongings in a plastic bag as he arrives to attend a class at the 'Aisha Mother of the Believers�school which was recently reopened after rebels took control of al-Rai town from Islamic State militants, Syria January 16, 2017. Picture taken January 16, 2017. To match story MIDEAST-CRISIS/SYRIA-SCHOOL. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
A student writes on a broken whiteboard during a class at the 'Aisha Mother of the Believers�school which was recently reopened after rebels took control of al-Rai town from Islamic State militants, Syria January 16, 2017. Picture taken January 16, 2017. To match story MIDEAST-CRISIS/SYRIA-SCHOOL. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
Students sit on damaged desks at the 'Aisha Mother of the Believers�school which was recently reopened after rebels took control of al-Rai town from Islamic State militants, Syria January 17, 2017. Picture taken January 17, 2017. To match story MIDEAST-CRISIS/SYRIA-SCHOOL. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
Students gesture as they stand in line at the 'Aisha Mother of the Believers�school which was recently reopened after rebels took control of al-Rai town from Islamic State militants, Syria January 16, 2017. Picture taken January 16, 2017. To match story MIDEAST-CRISIS/SYRIA-SCHOOL. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
A student carries a Unicef-donated school bag in 'Aisha Mother of the Believers�school which was recently reopened after rebels took control of al-Rai town from Islamic State militants, Syria January 17, 2017. Islamic State militants covered the UNICEF logo featured on the bags with the slogan "Cubs of the Caliphate" when they were in control of al-Rai town. Picture taken January 17, 2017. To match story MIDEAST-CRISIS/SYRIA-SCHOOL. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
Students play at the 'Aisha Mother of the Believers�school which was recently reopened after rebels took control of al-Rai town from Islamic State militants, Syria January 16, 2017. Picture taken January 16, 2017. To match story MIDEAST-CRISIS/SYRIA-SCHOOL. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
Students stand amid damaged desks and books in 'Aisha Mother of the Believers�school which was recently reopened after rebels took control of al-Rai town from Islamic State militants, Syria January 17, 2017. Picture taken January 17, 2017. To match story MIDEAST-CRISIS/SYRIA-SCHOOL. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
A damaged laboratory model of a human head is seen inside the 'Aisha Mother of the Believers�school which was recently reopened after rebels took control of al-Rai town from Islamic State militants, Syria January 17, 2017. Picture taken January 17, 2017. To match story MIDEAST-CRISIS/SYRIA-SCHOOL. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
A classroom used as a prison by Islamic State militants is pictured inside the 'Aisha Mother of the Believers�school which was recently reopened after rebels took control of al-Rai town from them, Syria January 17, 2017. Picture taken January 17, 2017. To match story MIDEAST-CRISIS/SYRIA-SCHOOL. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
Students' shoes are seen on a broken window in 'Aisha Mother of the Believers�school which was recently reopened after rebels took control of al-Rai town from Islamic State militants, Syria January 16, 2017. Picture taken January 16, 2017. To match story MIDEAST-CRISIS/SYRIA-SCHOOL. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
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AL-RAI, Syria (Reuters) - Sifting through ripped up textbooks and writing on broken whiteboards, Syrian children returned this week to a dilapidated small-town school that was used by Islamic State militants as a prison for more than two years.

With no chairs or desks, around 250 children huddled in classrooms on mats to stay off the cold concrete at the Aisha Mother of the Believers school in al-Rai, in the northern Aleppo hinterland near the Turkish border.

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The students, aged 5-15, were given notebooks and pens on their first day back on Monday by seven volunteers who teach reading, writing and maths and helped get the school habitable again over the past six weeks.

"(I feel) joy, because I was able to bring back to school this number of students in a short period," said volunteer Khalil al-Fayad. "(But also) heartbreak because of the bad condition (of the school)."

The school previously taught 500 students before being seized 2 1/2 years ago by Islamic State insurgents, who slapped logos on school bags bearing the slogan "Cubs of the Caliphate", residents said.

The principal and teachers fled the area when Islamic State took over and parents stopped sending their children to the school, which closed after two months and was used to house prisoners of the ultra-hardline jihadists.

Volunteers set about trying to return the school to its previous standards last month in al-Rai after Syrian Free Army rebels backed by the Turkish military ousted Islamic State from the area.

With shattered windows, bullet strewn walls, debris and broken equipment still present, there is plenty left to do for the team of volunteers, who say they are seeking funding from local and Turkish authorities.

"(I) fear not being able to continue what we are doing if the situation remains the same and the lack of support continues," Al-Fayad said.

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